Lahore: Drive against encroachments: City govt moves on to bigger targets
LAHORE: The city government stepped up its anti-encroachment drive on Thursday when it decided to take action against unauthorised buildings and partially tore down three plazas in Data Ganj Bakhsh Town.
Town staff started taking down the three-storey buildings, two of which were still under construction, on Mozang Road at 5am. Work on one of the plazas had been at a halt after the city government’s buildings department took it to court for starting construction without approval of the building plan. The other two plazas were also demolished for the same reason.
The owners of the buildings and their families live on the same site and they tried to stop the demolition when they saw what was happening. They threw rocks at staff from the tops of the buildings and work had to be halted. The tehsil municipal officer (TMO) called in the police to control the situation and allow town staff to resume their operation.
Authority for approving building plans was transferred from the towns to the city government a few years ago by then district coordination officer Sajjad Ahmed Bhutta. The number of pending applications for approval surged. Many citizens, frustrated at the delay, bribed lower staff to look the other way as construction began of unapproved buildings.
Data Ganj Bakhsh Town TMO Ali Abbas Bukhari said that it was now again the towns’ responsibility to approve building plans. He said that the town had identified around 100 structures constructed in violation of building bylaws. He said that each building required a setback area of 20 feet but no one obeyed this rule.
At Mozang Road, the plaza owners said that they were tired of waiting for approval for plans submitted years ago.
They said that they had not been given notice before the start of the demolition operation.
Saleem Ali, a plaza owner, said that he had bribed city government officials so that they would not object if construction of his plaza began before approval was granted. He said that the DCO at the time had not been processing any applications.
He said that they had resisted the operation because their livelihoods were being taken away from them. He said that he and his family lived in a residence at the back of the plaza and the demolition operation could have damaged their home.
Another plaza owner said that his aim had been to rent out space in the plaza to shops and live off the income. He said he had taken several loans to fund the construction. Now he was in debt but unable to make money from the building to pay it back. “I don’t know what to do.
The government doesn’t have the courage to touch the actual land mafias, only people without influence like me,” he said.
Bukhari insisted that the crackdown would be across the board. “We have received special instructions from the DCO [Ahad Kham Cheema] … No one will be able to avoid facing the music no matter how influential he might be,” he said.